Houston Rockets v Golden State Warriors

Jermaine O’Neal treating this season like it’s his last

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Jermaine O’Neal has spent three careers in the NBA.

He entered the league as its youngest player – undercutting Kobe Bryant by a few months – and spent four seasons in Portland buried on the bench.

Then, he went to Indiana and made six straight All-Star games, even finishing third in 2004 MVP voting.

Afterward, he floated to Toronto, Miami, Boston, Phoenix and Golden State, making modest contributions in each stop.

Raw youngster, star and journeyman.

He’s really settled into that last role with the Warriors this season, averaging 7.6 points, 5.5 rebounds and 1.0 blocks in 20.8 minutes per game. Of course, a pleasant regular season isn’t what O’Neal is after at this stage of his career.

Eighteen-year pros, O’Neal and Steve Nash are the only active players in the NBA that long without a championship. Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen, Derek Fisher and Kobe Bryant have already gotten their titles.

O’Neal knows time could be running out. O’Neal, via Diamond Leung of the San Jose Mercury News:

“This could be it,” said O’Neal, 35. “So this is my last chance to try to win a championship. That’s how I view it right now, whether it is or not.

“It affects all the way to how you view your pregame meal to your nap to your bus ride to the arena. Those things are a little more intense than they would normally be.”

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It’s difficult to read that quote and not think about a passport issue keeping O’Neal from travelling with the Warriors to play the Raptors, but for what it’s worth, he firmly denies losing it:

O’Neal is not perfect – he also discusses The Palace brawl in Leung’s article – but he’s had an incredible career. Whether or not he wins a championship, that won’t change.

But the passion he’s put into his quest for a title is precisely why his career has unfolded this way.

Glenn Robinson III does his best to salvage Dunk Contest, gets victory in process

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NEW ORLEANS — This year’s NBA All-Star Dunk Contest was doomed to disappoint, it was never going to match last year’s epic battle. It started in a hole.

It never climbed out. Don’t take my word for it, check out what JaVale McGee thought.

Saturday was an underwhelming night of dunks punctuated by a couple of moments of brilliance.

The Pacers’ Glenn Robinson III had the most of those moments — which is why he won the event. His strong night started with his first dunk, which may well have been the best of the contest.

The final one from Robinson, the one that sealed the victory, may be the other best dunk of the competition — dunking over Paul George, the Pacers mascot, and a Pacers dancer.

“I originally planned for it just to be PG (Paul George),” Robinson said afterward. “I knew I had to bring out something special. We added the mascot and the cheerleader. I really just wanted to get up high and dunk that thing hard, man. My adrenaline was going. It felt like I was looking at the rim. All I knew was the crowd go crazy. I pointed like this because, man, everybody seemed to sleep on me, didn’t really think I was going to win this thing.”

Event favorite Aaron Gordon, who should have won a year ago, opened the contest with an innovative idea — a drone dunk — but he couldn’t execute it and there were a few attempts before he nailed it.

Gordon didn’t advance out of the first round, and his first dunk summed up the 2017 Dunk Contest — interesting ideas that didn’t quite pan out like planned. (To be fair, Gordon has been battling injuries recently, that may have thrown him off).

If it wasn’t going to be Gordon, a lot of people expected it to be the bouncy Suns forward Derrick Jones Jr. who won, and he reached the Finals in part thanks to this spectacular dunk that woke the Smoothie King Center up.

DeAndre Jordan was okay, but without Chris Paul throwing him lobs it didn’t quite feel the same. Jordan can dunk with such power in game, but we didn’t see that Saturday.

In the end, it was Gordon who was making the plays.

“I’m not really a known dunker,” Robinson said. “I practiced. I prepared. I know I’m a jumper. And like I said, I’m a guy that stays out of the way. But when it’s time to shine, that’s my thing. That’s what I wanted to do. I knew all along I had some things planned, and I just wanted to show the world.”

Glenn Robinson III wins underwhelming dunk contest on over-people, below-rim dunk (video)

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NEW ORLEANS — Glenn Robinson III won the dunk contest with the second-best dunk of the night, going over a few people and under the rim — a narrow path to slamming victory.

It would’ve rated as the event’s best dunk if he were truly under the rim rather than somewhat in front of it. And he did have the best body of work to win the contest.

But the best single dunk was still by runner-up Derrick Jones Jr., who went between the legs on a pass off the side of the backboard.

NBA stars shoot threes to raise $500,000 for Sager Strong Foundation in touching moment

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NEW ORLEANS — The spirit of Craig Sager is strong during All-Star weekend in The Big Easy and he’s going to get a spot in the Hall of Fame, deservedly so.

After Eric Gordon won the Three-Point Contest, he and the other finalists Kyrie Irving and Kemba Walker stayed on the court to shoot threes to raise money for the Sager Strong Foundation — they would shoot threes for a minute and for each make the foundation would get $10,000. Then they brought out help — Reggie Miller, James Harden, DeMar DeRozan, DJ Khaled, and others to knock down shots. That raised $130,000.

Stephen Curry tried to push that to $500,000, but it was Sager’s son that actually did it (with an assist from Shaquille O’Neal).

It was a touching moment for a great cause.

Derrick Jones Jr. catches pass off side of backboard, jams between-legs dunk (video)

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NEW ORLEANS — With defending runner-up Aaron Gordon eliminated in the first round, Suns forward Derrick Jones Jr. might be our best hope to save the dunk contest.